PTC – The Fist of Righteousness
The PTC has decided that it needs help making sure that its price fixing, cartel creating rules are enforced:
In its crackdown on the increasingly popular but unregulated Uber and Lyft ride-sharing programs, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission agreed Wednesday to ask other law enforcement agencies for help.
The two outfits have operated in Tampa for several months now, causing friction with the transportation commission and the taxi and limousine industries, which say the companies are in violation of state laws and local regulations. Uber and Lyft don’t carry the proper insurance and aren’t certified, they say.
Uber and Lyft allow customers to request a ride via smartphone apps from drivers who aren’t required to have the same costly licenses and permits required of taxi drivers. Their websites tout that they are a cheaper option than taxis and don’t rely on the same meter system.
Oops. And the law enforcement agencies are right. They have better things to do. But the vanguard of local anti-competitive practices does not want to take “No” for an answer”
“When you look at the state statues and the enacting legislation, the PTC is a legislative body just like a city council and a county commission,” said PTC Chairman Victor Crist, who is also a Hillsborough County commissioner.
Yes, but there is such a thing a prosecutorial discretion. Not all rules have to be enforced with the fervor demanded by the most vocal proponent of the rule. Maybe no one else likes the PTC’s rules. Maybe there are more important laws to maintain. In any event, the PTC may be subsumed into HART soon. Of course, the door is still open to law enforcement making sure you have to pay $50 to drive one block in a limo – because that is really important:
Both McKinnon and Mandell said the agencies first need to see the specific written request from the transportation commission. Once the letter is received, they said, further conversations will determine what role, if any, local law enforcement will play in the crackdown.
We shall see. And don’t expect any give from the PTC:
“I’ve never had a group of organized criminals tell us or the federal government, ‘Your laws don’t fit in our business model, so we’re going to continue to break the law,’ ” he said. “They will have to make some changes. We’re not just going to roll over on this.”
There you have the promised PTC reform in full flower in innovation central.
Economic Development – The Unanswered Questions
There was an interesting column in the Times regarding Orlando’s developing “start-up culture.” So what is the deal with Orlando?
Don’t let Orlando’s size — it’s smaller than the Tampa Bay metro market — fool you. The city’s run with precision and cooperation by veteran politicians like Jacobs and Mayor Buddy Dyer. Orlando enjoys a deep bench of talented tech engineers. Its University of Central Florida boasts a strong reputation for economic development. All the tax dollars that flow from being the world’s biggest tourist destination help, too.
In the downtown core, cheap spaces dedicated to startup businesses and business accelerators are opening in dormant Church Street Station, where tourist restaurants and bars once flourished. UCF will soon open a digital-media incubator downtown for startups developing video games, animated film and Web products.
A free bus system called Lymmo circulates downtown, making it easy to get around, and cheap for young entrepreneurs who can leave their cars at home and skip pricey parking garage fees. Nearby, a major proposed project known as Creative Village will feature clusters of urban housing, working space and support services dedicated to high-tech innovation.
Interesting, if not shocking ideas (though, as with Tampa, the circulator is not too useful if it does not connect to a system or run at decent times. The Creative Village is much more interesting proposition.).
Contrast this glimpse of a highly focused and even cocky Orlando to Tampa Bay’s more fragmented approach to supporting startups. Many projects operate as separate silos in Tampa or St. Petersburg or Largo or Clearwater or Oldsmar or Wesley Chapel. And talk of better coordinating Tampa Bay’s startup culture is modest so far.
Exactly – a coordinated, regional approach versus a scattered mess within a framework of political dysfunction.
So what is the reaction in the Tampa Bay area?
“The rise in Orlando’s ecosystem is a good thing for Tampa Bay,” says Linda Olson, who co-founded the Tampa Bay WaVE business incubator in downtown Tampa. “This is not a zero-sum game. If we work with Orlando to get the word out about Central Florida’s strengths for tech talent and tech companies, we will all enjoy a fantastic economic boom for the long term.”
At the same time, Olson agrees it is “great” to let our local political and business leaders know how aggressively Orlando is building its ecosystem. “If we don’t wake up, they very well could steal a lot of our talent and most promising companies.”
That is kind of odd. The rise in Orlando could be a good thing if there was a rise in the Tampa Bay area. However, if we do what we are doing how we are now doing it, the rise in Orlando will just steal our talent and leave us behind (as usual).
As if to make the point, the whole column is started with this:
While we still identify Orlando as a place overgrown with theme parks, the city’s startup renaissance was recently captured in a 45-minute documentary called Orlando Rising. The film is clearly promotional. But its can-do theme resonates, suggesting the entrepreneurial stars are aligning in this metro area, especially in its downtown.
I viewed Orlando Rising recently and toured some of the city’s vibrant startup community with the film’s executive producer, David Glass. A founder of the Florida Technology Journal, Glass is a re-energized entrepreneur who relocated to Orlando after an underwhelming stint in Tampa.
Which leaves the questions: why was his stay in Tampa so bad that he had to move (to Orlando or all those other places we lose talent to), and how many other people like him are there?
Which ties into the seemingly mandatory positive note at the end of every column by this particularly columnist:
At Tampa Bay WaVE, Olson says she see plenty of reasons to validate Tampa Bay’s efforts. She cites the recent decision by the major health care incubator Healthbox to choose Tampa Bay for its home base in Florida.
“After looking at ecosystems around the state, including Orlando and Miami, they chose Tampa Bay because they liked what they saw here,” Olson says. “And I personally know of other national programs who are looking at Tampa Bay, and not Orlando, for some exciting opportunities because we have a lot of what they are looking for.”
And that is good. But we have to wonder if it will just be another announcement of something that never really comes to fruition and leaves (like this) or, if it stays, will really grow.
In any event, incubators in this area are nothing new. (see this Times column by the same columnist from 2001 – before the iPod was released to the public. Read it to see that the Tampa Bay area already was behind and what hype was tossed around in 2001.)
The questions remain: why haven’t they worked, why do so many people feel the need to leave this area to succeed, and why should we expect anything to be different this time around?
Economic Development – Ok Versus Really Good or Excellent
Speaking of economic development, there were a few interesting items this week.
First, there was more news about what is often held out as a great success – the Amazon warehouse. As we have said numerous times, even though we do not view them as a great economic development accomplishment, we would rather have the Amazon warehouses than not have them. But the fact remains that they provide quite low paying jobs, even if they have some decent benefits for low wage jobs.
To many, landing a job at Amazon seems like a good opportunity. You earn more than minimum wage — though not by much — you get health benefits and, after a year of full-time employment, Amazon will cover most of your college tuition. Educationwise, all you need is a high school diploma or equivalent.
Consider that this isn’t “sit around and eat bon bons” kind of work. Jobs at Amazon’s fulfillment centers are rigorous. Picking, packing and shipping orders at lightning speed is physically demanding, stressful and monotonous. Amazon requires applicants be able to lift up to 49 pounds and stand and walk for up to 10 to 12 hours. Not everyone can do that, or wants to.
In other words, they are low wage warehouse jobs with benefits. Fine. That is not an overwhelming success, especially since there are a large number of Amazon warehouses nationwide (it is basically like saying getting a Bass Pro Shops is a huge economic development success). Of course, for the people with a new job, it is a good thing, but such jobs should not be the measure of success. (Which economic development official or politician in Hillsborough County is going to tell their kid to stay in town because they can get an $11/hour job? That is the measure.)
Similarly, there was an announcement that Quest Diagnostics would be adding some jobs in the area:
The project — roughly double the number of jobs that state officials initially expected — marks a major coup in an ongoing drive to make the bay area, in particular Hillsborough County, a cluster for higher-paying jobs in life sciences.
The company will use the 48,000-square-foot Tampa facility, at 3011 University Center Drive, to monitor both air and ground operations for its transportation fleet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Using 18 control stations and a 250-square-foot digital display, workers in Tampa will be able to track the shipment of patient specimens from one of Quest’s 2,200 patient service centers and other patient locations in the United States to one of its clinical laboratories for testing.
So, first things first – we are glad that Quest is expanding in the area. We are happy they brought jobs here. But, the above coverage does not seem exactly accurate:
The presence of lots of workers with experience in customer service was one of the primary reasons Quest (NYSE: DGX) decided to open the center in Tampa, said Doug Lang, director of national logistics operations centers for Quest.
“We looked at a number of locations. We have an existing presence in Tampa, a major lab. We also considered the roles we are looking to establish here. There’s a strong employee market in the customer service area in Tampa,” Lang said.
The lab was already here. The new jobs are in large part call center jobs. The rest are in logistics, which is better, but not really life sciences at all. But, as we said, we are happy for the jobs even if they are not really part of building a life sciences cluster.
Then there was this oddity in the reporting:
Quest began operations in the new center at the beginning of the year and has already filled a little more than half of the total 350 planned positions. The remaining positions will be filled over the next two to three years, Lang said.
So, in essence, this is already old news, even though the announcement came this week. Once again, we are happy for the jobs, but they are not life sciences jobs, so we have no idea why they are being held out as such. (At least the accompanying comments from local officials were more measured than usual.)
And the coverage this week of Amazon also made us wonder about something else we have noticed:
Around the office, it has become something of a joke. Colleagues laugh at the sheer number of times in a week I say, “I don’t work for Amazon.” My editor says I should get a commission from Amazon for everyone I direct to its job sites.
What does that say about balance and realism in local business/political reporting?
Downtown – Tampa, a Low Rise Kind of Town
There were a few articles this week about potential developments downtown, though they did not really give much detail. First, it seems more apartments are proposed near the Straz:
New Jersey-based Denholtz Associates owns the surface parking lots directly east of the Straz and is in the final stages of a deal to sell about 5.3 acres to make way for several hundred apartments, with a large parking deck later taking up the other portion of the available land.
This is the land:
Ok, so what is the plan?
The first step involves Denholtz selling the northern parcel to a developer who would build about 330 to 350 units in a series of four or five-story buildings. Proceeds from that sale would then help build a two-story parking deck on the southern parcel. That parking project would not preclude anyone going to shows at the Straz center from parking there, Sampson said. More likely, he said patrons would simply pay to park in the new garage in the same way they pay to park in the surface lot now. The parking deck would end up serving the apartments to the north, the office building to the East and the Straz to the west.
Excuse us if we are not at all excited by the prospect of using prime downtown land for 4 story apartment buildings and a low slung parking garage. What an utter waste of space. They could easily build two buildings (like this one in St. Pete) and double the apartments, add green space and retail, and improve the area. Moreover, some creative planning and mixed use could help energize the area, including the Riverwalk, rather than leave a dead zone north of the Straz near the interstate. But, alas, you should expect no such thing in Tampa.
And, with such low buildings, of course no views would be blocked because the buildings would barely get over the trees (not to mention not having any views themselves, unless highway on-ramps are your style.). Moreover, the fact is that such buildings would be out of scale with the immediate area where most of the buildings around them are ten stories or so.
Not to mention that nothing will help energize the area around the Straz and take advantage of all those potential customers like a squat, wide parking garage – a perfect architectural complement to the Library.
But then again – maybe that article was all lot of noise about nothing:
Well, that is inconvenient for the media blitz. Nevertheless, we hope there is nothing planned for this lot – at least nothing like what was reported. We shall have to see.
Developer Frank DeBose has asked Tampa City Council to tweak the zoning of property at Cass Street and Governor Drive at the south entrance to Encore. The property covers two lots designated for condos and hotels.
One of those lots straddles the zoning districts created for downtown and Encore. The conflict needs to be ironed out before development can move forward, said Leroy Moore, chief operating officer for the housing authority.
So the Housing Authority is selling public land for a project without providing any real details to the public. (this area) What is the assessed value of the land? How tall/dense is it going to be? What is the lay-out? What are the hotels going to be (with apparently 380 rooms)? What is the deal with the condos? What the hell is “low-rise” residential and how does that in any way fit with the Encore project and its purpose? How much street activity will there be? Why are you selling before anyone knows anything?
Just another deal involving public land that is exceptionally short on details. (Think HCC sports complex) And was there an RFP for the land to see if a better use could be found (leaving it empty is a better use than “low-rise” residential? Maybe there was one, but we can’t find it – so if it was there, let us know. (Note to Tampa: you don’t just do RFP’s when you have to; you do them to get the best deal)
The first project, if it is a project, is a major settle for the City – very sad. The second is entirely too vague. Maybe it will turn out to be ok, but we won’t know until the land is already sold, which is not particularly good governance on the part of the Housing Authority.
How is any of this a change in Tampa’s DNA?
And one more thing about Encore:
Another zoning tweak that will need the city council’s approval will allow a small amount of surface parking within Encore’s boundaries. To this point, all the parking within the project has been in garages.
Grocery store is fine. We can even see a small amount of surface parking, but it better not abut the street and it better be very limited. Otherwise, it will mess up the whole point of Encore – but, really, what do you think the City will do?
Built Environment/List of the Week – We Know You Can’t Walk Here
To anyone who reads the papers and sees news of pedestrians getting hit by cars on a routine basis (or anyone who actually tries to walk somewhere), it will come as no surprise that Tampa is not considered walkable. This week the Times had a short feature on smartgrowthamerica.org’s list of most/least walkable metro areas. The methodology section starts on page 8 of the pdf. A key is:
In our evaluations of individual metropolitan areas, as we have done for metro Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, DC, we have been able to assess all real estate product types. Due to resource constraints in looking across all 30 metros, we have used office and retail as a proxy for development trends.
DC, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland (OR), Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Columbus, Kansas City, LA, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Detroit, Miami, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Tampa (meaning the Tampa Bay area), Phoenix, and Orlando.
It is not surprising to us that the Tampa Bay area is not considered walkable, because, basically, it is not walkable. And, from the list, it should be noted that transit in and of itself does not cure walkability issues. There has to be a change in approach to how things are built around the transit and elsewhere. If there is a narrow area of walkable development around transit and wild sprawl everywhere else, the score is still likely to be low.
We are also not surprised that in the potential future rankings, Tampa moves up considerably, but that is potential future rankings. It is contingent on having real transit, changing the building codes, and actually caring about how things are built – which does not appear to be the case anywhere but in sort of in downtown Tampa and definitely in downtown St. Pete. Certainly Tampa does not seem to care about how anything is built if it is outside the InVision Tampa zone, and that includes Westshore where many of the newer retail developments show a regression rather than progress.
And why should anyone care about walkability? Because, as can be noted above – the top of the list is populated by the most of the usual suspects of most positive lists. It is an economic development, brain drain, and quality of life issue, which has been ignored for so long to our own detriment.
There is a huge amount of potential for this area. Sadly, most of it is untapped. The main impediment to progress is lack of political will and the epidemic of settling – which really points to a lack of pride of place. While there are some truly excellent things and people in this area, there are not nearly enough (and very few excellent buildings), though the excessive hype works to cover it up.
But the bottom line is that as long as mediocrity is routinely passed off as excellence, we will continue to lag in this area and most others.
Built Environment – Newspeak
Speaking of hype, we saw something new this week:
So this is going from a strip mall to an “open-air mall,” which appears to be a strip mall with an outparcel – or, as normal people speak, a strip mall. Hey, we are fine with fixing up the old strip mall (while we would prefer something else, we understand the area this building is in and that the City does not care), but don’t try to pass it off as something other than a renovated strip mall. It’s not like it is becoming Wiregrass (which, as you can tell from the sea of parking around it, is really just a mall without a roof or awnings, which is fun in the summer, not some urban-ish development. It appears the designers were in California and have never visited Florida in the summer.)
But more to the point – we would expect the developer to try to pass it off as something it isn’t, but why does the paper?
Channelside – Tedium
The Port Authority gave its negotiators authority to bid on the Channelside complex in the upcoming auction that is being contested by Liberty.
And if you are confused by the whole Channelside saga, you can check out this Tribune article which is an attempt to explain the issue but, as far as we could tell, does not clarify anything.
Maybe it is beyond clarification. It is certainly far past being silly.
Coming Out Watch – The New Hotels
This past week, the Le Meridien in downtown Tampa had a soft opening. A little while back, the Epicurean also opened. We just happened to run across a couple of bloggy reviews – both favorable to the hotels. Here is the one for the Epicurean. And here is the one for Le Meridien.
Like we said, both reviews of the hotels are favorable. The Le Meridien review did have this though:
If I’m being honest, my only complaint is that the hotel is in downtown Tampa. I know this appeals to some business travelers, but having lived in Tampa for over a decade I can say that downtown Tampa is about as exciting as downtown Cleveland…
Which then included this video about Cleveland which is worth viewing whether you care about the reviews or not (warning – there may be a language issue):
Forget “Orlando Rising.” Downtown Cleveland is an instant classic.
List of the Week
Our list this week was in the “Built Environment/List of the Week – We Know You Can’t Walk Here” item above.